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Calif. District Rejects Plan To Abolish Homework

A school board member in Half Moon Bay, Calif., recently proposed abolishing one of the mainstays of American education--homework.

But, in a 3-to-1 vote late last month, the board of the Cabrillo Unified School District decided to retain this staple of student life.

The board member who proposed the ban, Garrett Redmond, argued that homework favors wealthier students, who often have a better environment for studying at home, over their less-advantaged classmates.

The proposal brought national media attention to the 3,700-student district south of San Francisco.

Mr. Redmond also said after-school assignments disrupt family life by separating children from their parents in the evening. Many students regularly do eight hours of homework a night, he said.

While the board retained the requirement, its members plan to study the homework issue further. The superintendent said he and a group of teachers and parents will review the homework policy and issue a report on their recommendations next year.

Response to Rapes

School leaders in Memphis have been scrambling to increase security and counsel frightened students following the abduction and rape of six schoolgirls in the past month.

"My blood pressure is soaring," Alfred Motlow, the principal at Mitchell High School, said. Two of his students--girls ages 14 and 15--were among those attacked.

"I am just burning with anger over what happened to these girls," Mr. Motlow said.

The suspect, a man posing as a police officer, approached the victims on their way to school. He lured the girls into his car, drove them to another location, and sexually assaulted them, police said.

Many Memphis schools have launched violence-prevention campaigns, holding assemblies and distributing pamphlets.

Rape counselors and school psychologists have also been available to counsel the teenagers, Mr. Motlow said. And local principals have called parents to urge them not to let students walk to school alone.

Memphis police said last week they were searching for the assailant but had no suspects.

Reaching Out

Scores of teachers in suburban Minneapolis and St. Paul can now save themselves a trip to the school office to pick up their telephone messages or place a call.

About a dozen school districts in the Twin Cities area have recently installed phone lines in classrooms--a move sure to spark envy at schools where such links to the outside world are still considered a luxury.

Students, teachers, and parents can take advantage of the new hook-ups to trade information on homework assignments and school activities. And a voice mail system allows callers to leave a message while class is in session.

Hair Today...

A state court jury has sided with a Texas school district in a case involving a male student's refusal to cut off his ponytail.

The jury in a state district court late last month said the Bastrop Independent School District's policy against long hair was not based on sex discrimination, as alleged in a lawsuit filed by Zachariah Toungate, a 12-year-old 7th grader.

This is the first action in the case since a ruling two years ago by a state appeals court that reversed a lower-court decision to dismiss Zachariah's lawsuit. The case has been pending for four years.

Zachariah is taught at home, and still wears his ponytail.

Paul Knisely, a lawyer representing Zachariah, said the verdict was discouraging but added that he would ask the judge this week to set aside the jury verdict. The boy's lawyers may also ask for a new trial.

Contract Dispute

Teachers in Salem, Mass., last week said no to a contract offer and yes to the picket lines in a dispute over pay raises.

An official in the superintendent's office said the nine schools in the 4,800-student district would remain open despite the strike.

The previous contract had expired on Aug. 31.

Salem Teachers Union officials were asking parents to keep their children at home in support of the strikers. School officials, however, said that any missing children would be counted as absent.

Reform Progress Questioned

Academic achievement among Chicago students has risen little in the five years since the district's landmark school-reform act went into effect, according to a report issued last week.

Since 1989, students have improved in only three of 14 measures of achievement and have experienced marked declines in some test scores, concludes the report by the Heartland Institute, a research center based in Palatine, Ill.

Attendance and graduation rates have improved slightly, but the schools appear to be no safer than they were before reform, the report says.

Argie K. Johnson, the district's general superintendent, issued a statement last week disputing the report's conclusions. Its analysis was fraught with technical errors, the statement said.

Also last week, a group of local and nationally known educators announced the formation of the Chicago Forum for School Change, an organization based at the University of Illinois at Chicago that will advise city schools in their ongoing efforts to reform.

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